Storm brewing in a teacup

Not an easy feat: GE14 saw a change of Government but it will take time to change people’s mindsets, cultures and deep-rooted prejudices.

CALL me naive if you want, but will we ever get past our obsession with race, religion, gender, marital status and sexual orientation?

And for some strange reason, we are prepared to “overlook”, even become apologists, for corruption and child marriages.

Some of us have the most absurd defence for corruption, even if it’s of global magnitude. As for paedophilia, we condone and accept it as the way for child marriages.

But when it involves race, religion and gender, we choose to look the other way, even when the rights of the minority are trampled on.

Most of us are too meek to defend them because we fear the backlash for daring to stand up and speak for them.

In the age of social media, the incessant attacks are far worse, naturally. So, don’t count on too many people to have your back. They may have appeared fearless, or outspoken on other issues, but if their hide is on the line, it becomes a very different story.

As much as we would like to think a new political culture has unravelled in the post-general election euphoria, along with the birth of what we believe to be a New Malaysia, the sobering truth is, we may be in for some disappointment, set against a rising tide of expectations.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan hit the nail on the head, saying Malaysians voted to change the party in charge of the Government. But that didn’t change mindsets, cultures or deep-rooted prejudices.

“This is the reality that we must operate in. It’s easier to change the Government than to change people,” he tweeted last week.

The reality is, Malaysia is becoming an increasingly religious and conservative country, and as the results of the general election become clearer, Pakatan Harapan lawmakers must now be intimately aware that only 30% of Malays voted for them. But 95% of Chinese and between 60-70% of Indians chose Pakatan.

To be fair, though, Malay loyalty was divided between the Umno-led Barisan Nasional, PAS and Pakatan, according to the Merdeka Centre estimates.

Analysts and politicians believe the three-way split has big implications for Malaysia in the coming years, since there will be a tug of war for Malay support between the political factions.

Some 35-40% of Malays voted Barisan, 30-33% supported PAS, and 25-30% picked Pakatan, according to Merdeka.

Amid Barisan’s failure, don’t forget that PAS emerged strongly in GE14 as it swept to victory in Terengganu, tightened its grip on Kelantan, and encroached into Barisan’s “fixed deposits” on Felda turf.

In fact, the party won enough seats in Kedah (15 against Barisan’s three and Pakatan Harapan’s 18) and Perak (three seats against Barisan’s 27 and Pakatan’s 29) to be formidable.

Progressive urbanites won’t be tickled by these stats as it means Pakatan isn’t likely to force the issue, simply because there is political value to voters who still cling on to racial and religious prejudices.

So, many of us will have to live with Indian rabble rouser Dr Zakir Naik remaining in Malaysia. There’s no way the Prime Minister hasn’t seen that video that’s furiously making its rounds, in which the preacher uses Islam to justify to a member of the audience why she shouldn’t vote for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

And should we hold our breath expectantly to witness the shuttering of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) or the Biro Tatanegara (National Civics Bureau)?

PAS information chief Nasrudin Hassan now claims that the appointments of senior judge Richard Malanjum as chief justice, as well as Liew Vui Keong as de facto law minister and Tommy Thomas as attorney-general by the Pakatan government, have sparked restlessness among Muslims.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam, meanwhile, has threatened to stage a protest against “an alleged attempt by DAP to make Christianity the official religion in Malaysia”, by marching to Parliament.

As outrageous and pathetic as it may sound, we still hear such noises. So, presumably they have an audience, or so they believe.

So, it wasn’t surprising when activist Numan Afifi Saadan recently announced that he had no choice but to step down as Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman’s interim press officer following backlash over his LGBT rights activism.

Numan reportedly said the backlash and threats from the “opposition propagandists” had made it impossible for him to exercise his duties.

“Therefore, I have decided not to work with the Ministry in any official capacity,” he said, adding that he will be handing over his responsibilities to a new press secretary to be appointed soon.

Numan then clarified that he was never officially appointed by the Youth and Sports Ministry, despite his name appearing on its official website.

His name had reportedly been listed on the ministry’s website as “special officer”, but was subsequently removed.

No one was prepared to defend him. Not even Syed Saddiq, who beyond thanking him and saying the former will always be his “bro”, did little else.

Klang MP Charles Santiago was the only lawmaker who dared speak up about something he felt was wrong, pointing out that “gay rights are human rights, too”.

Before Numan’s resignation, Santiago pledged solidarity with Numan but was swiftly criticised for supporting the LGBT community.

Hats off to Santiago because he stood up for what he believed in, and despite the condemnation, remained resolute with his stand.

There are enough news reports of our transgender community being bullied, either by mobs or religious authorities. Tragically, they have continued to face such tyranny, as if they have no rights and dignity as human beings.

It’s easy to pretend that they don’t exist. Of course, if you are a family member of a powerful political family, or belong to a party in power, you are supposed to be treated accordingly. However, if you are not politically linked, then you need to call that blonde lawyer Siti Kasim.

Disappointingly, the presence of Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal at a thanksgiving event of his Parti Warisan Sabah colleague last weekend became a religious issue, too.

So, in Malaysia, we fuss about our countryman’s race, religion, gender and even the colour of the person’s hair, or their tattoos, when we should be more concerned about the person’s ability, skill, competence and integrity.

Hasn’t Malaysia been ripped off of billions of ringgit by those who thundered about race and religion from the rostrums?

It’s only at the death bed at the hospital – when we request the best doctors and nurses – that race, religion, gender and other preferences are no longer controversial. That’s when hypocrisy ends.

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Opinion , Politics , Wong Chun Wai , On the Beat


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